Six one time Yankees are on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. The six Yankees are: Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and Gary Sheffield. A seventh, Fred McGriff, was traded to the Blue Jays for a journeyman pitcher named Dale Murray while still in the minors. That remains one of the worst trades in Yankee history. The six Yankees include one very good player, Mastui, who despite his heroics in the 2009 World Series, is not a serious candidate and will likely get little support. Another candidate, Roger Clemens, has unequivocal Hall of Fame credentials as the best pitcher of his generation, but has been associated with PED use. The debate around Clemens is essentially a steroids debate about which pretty much everybody has already made up their mind. My position is that If I had a vote, I would vote for Clemens and Barry Bonds, but the remaining five candidates on the ballot are all more interesting from a purely baseball perspective.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas's election to the Hall of Fame represents one of the best years for Hall of Fame selection in a long time. Although there were numerous other deserving candidates including those tainted by steroids, like Barry Bonds and those with no steroid association, like Craig Biggio and Mike Mussina, it is still a good sign that three players, the most since 2003, were elected by the BBWAA. Biggio missed by an agonizing 0.2% and is in strong position to get elected next year.
This year, due to the quality of players on the ballot, the question of which players get less than 5% of the vote and fall off the ballot is almost as interesting as who will get elected. It is very possible that players with clear Hall of Fame credentials will not meet this 5% threshold and thus not get future consideration by the BBWAA. In this regard former Oriole and Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina is one of the most interesting candidates. He is not as well known as many of the other players on the ballot, but his career numbers compare favorably to many Hall of Famers. Mussina falling off the ballot is a real possibility, but is made more notable by the likelihood that an inferior pitcher, Jack Morris will be elected.
Supporters of Beltran will argue that his post-season performance should inform his candidacy. That notion is also relevant for players like Andy Pettitte who started more than a full season's worth of games in the post-season. Beltran's post-season record probably should be taken into account, but so should everybody else's from this era. However, this record should not only be taken into account, but should be viewed in its proper context. One striking line from Beltran's post-season resume is that he has played in 38 post-season games, but none in the World Series. The great post-season performers from previous generations either played all their post-season games in the World Series like Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle, or, like Reggie Jackson and Steve Garvey, played a good proportion of their post-season games in the World Series.
Soriano is winding down a career that will feel much more impressive in retrospect than it did at the time. Soriano was never quite the superstar some thought he would become because his game had too many holes and too many things at which he was not quite good enough, but when the incongruity between his tools and appearance on one hand, and his numbers and skills on the other, fade into the past, he will be more likely to be remembered as the very good player he has been.
Cain is, however, an intriguing pitcher from a statistical angle. His career win-loss record is an unimpressive 65-67, but this is largely because during 2007 and 2008, he got very poor run support posting a 15-30 record despite an ERA+ of 120. While Cain has been unlucky in one area, some argue that he has been lucky in others, because he has managed to post a lower ERA than his other numbers, such as walks and strikeouts would suggest. Cain has consistently managed to hold his opponents to a lower BABIP than most pitchers, as when Cain is pitching more batted balls turn into outs than might be generally expected.
When Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent Chad Durbin to the mound to start the bottom of the fifth inning of game six of the 2009 World Series, replacing future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, it was the end of a baseball era. Martinez’s last game in the big leagues had not gone well as the New York Yankees, led by Hideki Matsui, rocked him for four runs in four innings. Martinez was the last of a quartet of pitching superstars also including Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, who, at a time when offensive production was higher than ever, dominated the game as no other group of pitching peers ever have.
There are nineteen new players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot: Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Brett Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Kirk Reuter, Benito Santiago, B.J. Surhoff and Larry Walker. There are no new candidates this year that can be expected to easily get elected. The closest to this is Jeff Bagwell, who is deserving of the Hall of Fame, but is not viewed as a sure thing. There are, however, several players on the ballot who, while being good players, in some cases for many years, are clearly not Hall of Famers. This group includes Baerga, Boone, Grissom, Harris, Higginson, Johnson, Leiter, Martinez, Mondesi, Reuter, Santiago and Surhoff. That leaves a diverse group of seven players including Bagwell, Brown, Franco, Gonzalez, Olerud, Palmeiro and Walker whose candidacies should at least be seriously considered.
Like most winning formulas, the Giants approach is not fully replicable. Any strategy that begins with developing five top notch pitchers and an all-star quality catcher all within a few years of each other will be tough to follow, but most good teams are able to develop a core of top talent. That is more or less what defines a good team. The Giants strength lay in recognizing this was their moment and developing a good strategy to augment their core talent.
As the decade winds down, baseball fans can read about teams of the decade,top 100 players of the decade, all-star teams of the decade, the greatest moments of the decade and other measurements of the decade which just ended. Here are some other awards for the soon to be complete decade which have been overlooked.
When Robinson Cano tossed the ball to Mark Texeira for the final out of the sixth game of the World Series, the Yankees won their 27th World Series and fifth since Major League Baseball first used the current expanded playoff system in 1995. The Yankees have now won one third of all World Series since 1995, an impressive accomplishment given how difficult it is to survive a three round playoff system. Clearly the Yankees have benefited from a front office that is willing and able to spend the money needed to put a strong team on the field every year, but just as clearly, there are additional explanations for the Yankees’ success.
It seems that one thing most baseball observers understand about the post-season is that having two dominant starters is the key to winning the World Series. Two dominant starters, because of the extra days of rest, can start almost half of there team’s games and carry their teammates to championship. We know this because this is what Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. Spending too much time trying to figure out what happened in other recent post-seasons is, apparently, not worth our time.
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that success in the regular season in determined by the back end of pitching rotations, but that in the playoffs these pitchers barely matter. Successful regular season teams frequently have strong number four and five starters who, while not expected to shut down opposing offenses, can keep their team in the game. Teams with genuinely good four and five starters in the regular season usually are very difficult to beat over the course of a long season. Similarly, good offenses which can consistently beat up on the back ends of opposing rotations can give their teams a real advantage in reaching the post-season.
The first question this raises is: what is meant, in this case, by playing for this year? Does that mean that Giants are going to try to get the wild card, or that they are going to try to build a team that can play deep into the playoffs and have a chance at winning the World Series? If the goal is the former, than these trades make some sense. Sanchez and Garko will be marginal players; not dramatic upgrades over Travis Ishikawa and Juan Uribe. But then again the wild card race could well be decided in the margins. The Giants’ reason for pursuing this strategy is not clear. Although the team has now missed the post-season for five years in a row, they have also been eliminated in the first round three of the last four times they reached the post-season. Another first round exit may not slake the thirst for a championship of a franchise that has not won the World Series since Eisenhower was in his first term as President.